In a lot of ways Grassroots IT is a fairly typical small business. We have a single main office location (affectionately known as The Garden Shed) and a number of staff focussed on providing top notch service to our clients. Our team cover various functions such as technical support, administration, finance and marketing, and just like more and more businesses don’t necessarily all work from the office, at least not at the same time. It’s normal for us to have at least one or two people working remotely at any one time, either from home, or from a client site.
One thing that we’re always focussed on is internal communication within the team. Over the years we have demonstrated time and again that clear, open, inclusive communication can make the difference between having isolated, unhappy staff providing poor quality, inconsistent service to our clients, and a truly supportive team environment where everyone is engaged and focussed on doing awesome work.
Over the years we’ve tried a number of things to facilitate this such as…
- Email (the default option for most people)
- Regular all-hands, in-person meetings
- Various chat apps such as Skype, Lync and Live Messenger
- Online forum style software
Unfortunately across all of these various options we’ve consistently run into short comings, most notably…
- Not timely enough. Online forum software is all well and good, but we found that most people would only check the forum at best once per day.
- Isolated communications. With email, and the various chat tools we tried, we found that although communications could be timely, they inevitably became isolated between just a couple of people, and the rest of the team didn’t know what was going on. There will always be a need for this type of communication, but what we needed was a way to keep the whole team working together.
- Onerous and unsustainable. Regular in person meetings are great, but the logistics of getting everyone in the same room at the same time proved challenging, not to mention an inefficient use of valuable time to have remote people travel in to the office just for a meeting.
It was only recently that we started trialling HipChat, one of a new breed of private group chat tools available, and wow, what a difference it has made already. For those old and geeky enough to remember Internet Relay Chat (IRC), this might seem familiar.
HipChat can be accessed from any device (yes, including smartphones) via either an installed app, or a web browser. You can create different ‘Rooms’ in which people can ‘chat’ in order to provide some level of organisation around topics or teams.
For example, to start with we created two new rooms – The Garden Shed for chat involving all team members, and then Nerd Herd, just for the support techs.
You can see at a glance which team members are currently logged on to HipChat, and also whether they’re active, or temporarily ‘away’.
For those times when you do just need a one on one chat with someone, it’s as easy as double-clicking on their name to open a private chat session with just them.
The main chat interface is extremely intuitive, with a clean, easy to read layout. To send a message it’s as easy as typing into the box, and hitting ‘Send’. You can even send files, and link to other resources such as online videos and other websites.
HipChat has proved itself time and again, even within the short period of time that we’ve been trialling it. Here’s an example of the type of chat that takes place now on HipChat that would never have happened using email, or any of the other chat apps we’ve tried.
Tony: Hey Norman, how are you going with that Trend antivirus issue?
Norman: Getting there. The first two things I’ve tried haven’t fixed it, so I’m still working on it.
Cameron: Norman, I had that same issue the other day. What you need to do is call Trend support to get a special hotfix that hasn’t been publicly released yet.
Norman: Excellent thanks!
If this dialog between Tony and Norman had happened using email, or another one-to-one chat tool, Cameron would never have had the opportunity to step in and offer his experience, and Norman would have spent many more hours working on the problem before reaching the same conclusion that Cameron already had.
Amazingly enough, you can use HipChat for free. You won’t get some of the bells & whistles such as video chat, but to be honest we don’t use those anyway. With team members spread across Brisbane, Australia, and even globally, using a group chat tool in our business has made a noticeable impact in a very short period of time.
So my question to you is, what challenges are you currently facing in your business that open, inclusive team communications may solve?